An award-winning, site-specific opera by composer/director Francesca Le Lohé, inspired by Junichiro Tanizaki’s novel “The Key”.


The story of a family struggling with communication, intimacy, gender expectations and changing cultural identities.

‘20 years of marriage yet, I can’t speak with my wife’

But the husband is desperate to discuss their mutually unfulfilling sex life. When he notices his wife paying attention to Kimura, a man they intended to set up with their daughter, he is surprised to finds he enjoys feeling jealous. He writes about this in his diary and subtly encourages his wife to read it. Thus begins a new marriage with the couple communicating their feelings and fantasies tacitly through their diaries. When their daughter discovers these diaries, she and Kimura cooperate to turn her parents’ wishes into reality. However, as their actions become riskier, the couple’s new-found fulfilment threatens to be tragically cut short… 

Junichiro Tanizaki’s novel ‘The Key’ (1956) is told through the couple’s diaries, cleverly ensuring the reader engages in the same prying action as the characters. This sense of voyeurism inspired the staging of THE鍵KEY; the husband, wife, daughter and Kimura all perform in separate rooms of a house to represent how the real communication between them is never direct. As the intimate drama unfolds, audiences move freely around the house eavesdropping on each character, portrayed by an ensemble of a singer or dancer with Japanese and Western instruments.

Awards: Suntory Foundation of the Arts “19th Keizo Saji Prize”(2019)

Online music criticism journal Mercure des Arts “Annual Project Award” (3rd place)

Music and words by Francesca Le Lohé with excerpts from Junichiro Tanizaki’s original in Japanese.

Core concepts of “THE鍵KEY”


Character trios

A singer, one Western instrument and one traditional Japanese instrument form trios to represent each family member: The Husband trio (baritone or tenor, double bass and shakuhachi), The Wife trio (soprano, cello and sho) and The Daughter trio (mezzo-soprano, violin and Japanese percussion). In the 2018 and 2019 Tokyo performances, Kimura (the lover) also formed a trio with clarinet and biwa. The specific voice types and instruments were chosen to match the personalities of each character and to convey their varied emotional and psychological states.

Performing in a house

The trios perform simultaneously in different rooms; each trio’s music can be overheard and felt throughout the house. The sonic combinations vary massively depending on the building, the audience member’s location and the flexible pacing of the piece.

Audience experience

Every audience member hears the piece differently as they move freely throughout the rooms, and no two performances are the same. 


Why a dancer?

The role of ‘Kimura’ is performed by a male dancer, with or without accompanying instruments. Arguably the most mysterious character, Kimura is given a different and more abstract mode of expression to that of the family members.

Who is Kimura?

The ‘real’ Kimura is difficult to pinpoint. His motives and desires remain unclear as he appears to be manipulated by each of the family members for their personal aims. He represents something different to each of them; the youth and vigour The Husband wishes he still had, a chance for fulfilment and empowerment for The Wife, a malleable tool for The Daughter, enabling her to exact her plans.

Creating the choreography

The overall style of Kimura’s movement is determined by which character’s perspective he is seen from and can be seen most clearly when he enters the room of a family member. The choreographer, Kae Ishimoto, employed techniques inspired by butoh, a revolutionary dance form developed in post-WWII Japan, to develop the choreography in collaboration with the dancers. For example, Ishimoto encouraged the dancer to improvise movement in response to an element from a passage in the original Tanizaki novel which struck them as important. This then formed the basis for the choreography.   


Simultaneous performances in different rooms as the audience move freely throughout

There are two main reasons for this:

  • to highlight the inability of the characters to directly communicate with each other
  • to transform the experience of a reader of Tanizaki’s novel into an audience experience.

As the novel is told through the diary entries of the couple, readers are prompted to decide for themselves whose version of events to believe and must ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ with regards to what is not written. By staging simultaneous performances in different rooms, audience members grasp an overview of the story but are unable to see and hear everything. They become detectives, forming their own individual impressions and understandings of the drama and it’s multifaceted characters.

A cross-cultural work

Tanizaki and Western culture

The combination of Japanese and Western instruments and modes of performance are employed to reflect a subtle theme in the novel; 1950’s Japan’s relationship with western influence. The characters are caught between their traditional Japanese cultural upbringing and codes of conduct, and the new ideas and opportunities available from the West.

A bi-lingual opera

The libretto is a mix of English and Japanese, including some excerpts from the original novel. The mixture of cultural art forms and languages in the opera highlights how the characters cleverly navigate their way between customs to reach their personal goals.

Anglo-Japanese team

THE鍵KEY is born out of Anglo-Japanese exchange; with the initial concept developed by a UK-artist based in Japan and a creative team comprised of Japanese and UK artists, the results of intercultural learning and exchange can be seen in all aspects of the opera.

A site-specific performance

Three aspects in particular make a house the perfect venue for the opera:

  • the private, domestic nature of the story
  • the voyeuristic atmosphere experienced by the characters and audience alike
  • the close proximity of the separate rooms allowing for the sound to bleed

The house in which the performance takes place greatly influences the work. The opera has been different in each residence it has been performed in due to the layout, acoustics and context of the venue. Directorial alterations and adaptations to the music, dance and text have been made each time to successfully respond to the performance space. 

Development through collaboration

THE鍵KEY would not have been possible without the valuable work of the performers, creative team, production and venue staff involved. Each participating member brought their own interpretations, suggestions and unique contributions to the project; this not only enabled further development and refinement of the work, but also created an exciting, creative atmosphere which encouraged exchange, fostered new connections and allowed members to broaden their experience and practice.